England maintained their perfect run in Euro 2016 qualification with another victory as goals from Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling wrapped up a 2-0 win against Estonia.
The Arsenal forward struck just before half-time to finally breach a stubborn Estonia rearguard, before Sterling popped up in the closing stages to make in nine wins from nine on the road to France.
The result sends Roy Hodgson’s men to Lithuania on Monday knowing that one more victory will see them complete their Group E campaign with maximum points – a feat that England have never before achieved.
England 2-0 Estonia
UEFA Euro 2016
Group E Qualifier
Friday 9 October 2015
Wembley Stadium connected by EE
Though Wayne Rooney was ruled out of their final home qualifier due to injury, the night still involved the England captain as he was presented with a golden boot before kick-off by Sir Bobby Charlton, commemorating the World Cup winner’s goal record he beat a month earlier.
It was, however, vice-captain Gary Cahill who wore the armband, leading his country out for the first time.
The group winners were in control of proceedings for much of the game, and their first chance fell to Theo Walcott whose volley stung the hands of goalkeeper Mihkel Aksalu.
The stopper needed to be alert again a few moments later to beat Ryan Bertrand’s low cross away, and gather Ross Barkley’s effort from the rebound.
The ball remained largely in the visitor’s half and, with shades of the game in Tallinn 12 months ago.
Estonia – the team with the second best defensive record in Group E coming into the game – were looking to restrict England’s chances.
Adam Lallana had a sight on goal just before the half-hour – his strike was deflected over by Sergei Zenjov, who sent it looping over the bar.
His Liverpool teammate James Milner tried one from distance which spun wide, then lashed another from the edge of the area, following a corner, which arrowed over the bar.
Estonia did threaten on the break on occasions, the most concerning attack from Hodgson’s point of view came when Taijo Teniste burst forward with England low in numbers, but they could not find the finishing touch.
It did stir them, however, and seconds later Konstantin Vassiljev’ dangerous cross from the left needed a deft bit of defending from Chris Smalling to hook away to safety.
For England, the Raheem Sterling-Bertrand combination on the left was providing them with a ready supply of attacks, while the in-form Theo Walcott on the other side was a threat coming inside looking for another goal to add to his seven so far.
And it was the Arsenal man who finally broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time. Again, his run in from the right was timed perfectly and was spotted by Barkley, who threaded a fine pass into Walcott’s feet.
His first touch allowed him to turn sharply ten yards out before slotting inside the post past the approaching Aksalu.
Though the SJK stopper was beaten, he was certainly not out and continued to keep England at bay. Early in the second period he denied Lallana from doubling the lead from 20 yards, as he dived to push away his strike, then reacted quickly to block Harry Kane’s follow up.
It was a save from Barkley that was the pick, though, and left the Everton man wondering what more he needed to do to get on the scoresheet.
While his earlier long-distance strike only worried the assistant referee behind the goal, his next with 15 minutes to go should have made it 2-0.
But Aksalu was having none of it, despite seeing the 20-year-old’s jinking run take him in a position that warranted a goal, the vicious effort from 16 yards away was saved magnificently.
He could do little about Sterling’s goal which clinched England’s ninth successive win in qualifying with five minutes left.
Jamie Vardy had only just joined the action and was quickly on to Harry Kane’s flick on in the left-hand channel of the Estonia half.
The Leicester City striker made his way into the box before squaring for Sterling to tuck away from close range for his second senior international goal.
There was still time for Tottenham Hotspur youngster Dele Alli to come on for his senior debut as England kept their impressive, 100 per cent record in qualification intact with one game to play.
England (4-3-3): 1 Joe Hart, 2 Nathaniel Clyne, 3 Ryan Bertrand, 4 James Milner, 5 Gary Cahill (c), 6 Chris Smalling, 7 Theo Walcott, 8 Ross Barkley, 9 Raheem Sterling, 10 Harry Kane, 11 Adam Lallana
Subs: 15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on for Lallana 73, 19 Jamie Vardy on for Walcott 82, 20 Dele Alli on for Barkley 87
Subs not used: 12 Kyle Walker, 13 Jack Butland, 14 Phil Jones, 16 Phil Jagielka, 17 Andros Townsend, 18 Jonjo Shelvey, 21 Kieran Gibbs, 22 Tom Heaton
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Goals: Theo Walcott 45, Raheem Sterling 85
Watch video highlights of the win against Estonia
Estonia (4-4-2): 1 Mihkel Aksalu, 3 Artur Pikk, 6 Aleksandr Dmitrijev, 9 Ats Purje, 10 Sergei Zenjov, 14 Konstantin Vassiljev, 15 Ragnar Klavan, 17 Enar Jaager, 18 Karol Mets, 19 Ken Kallaste, 23 Taijo Teniste
Subs: 2 Joel Lindpere on for Dmitrijev 70, 7 Sander Puri on for Purje 70, 13 Siim Luts on for Kallaste 88
Subs not used: 12 Marko Meerits, 22 Pavel Londak, 4 Alo Barengrub, 5 Markus Jurgenson, 8 Maksim Gussev, 11 Ingemar Teever, 16 Ilja Antonov, 20 Gert Kams, 21 Nikita Baranov
Coach: Magnus Pehrsson
Referee: Istvan Vad (HUN)
Assistant referees: Istvan Albert and Laszlo Viszokai (HUN)
Fourth Official: Zsolt Varga (HUN)